Since no one has yet offered me a large pot full of treasures that would keep me otherwise occupied, I thought I would point readers to an interesting article (via Razib) about the Alevi sect in Turkey. This is one of the many sects that fill the fissiparous and wildly diverse universe of Shi’ism. Somewhat like the Druze, they have roots in Shi’ism, but have developed into an entirely different religious group.
Speaking of fairly obscure Near Eastern sects, I was introduced indirectly to the existence of a small religious minority in Armenia through reading the beginning of Namus, one of the works of Armenian author Alexander Shirvanzade. Namus, as I have discovered, is a Mediterranean and Near Eastern code of honour, and would seem to form part of the Pashtuns’ pushtunwali surveyed by The Economist late last year.
What was the obscure sect I discovered? The Malakans (as transliterated from Armenian) or Molokans (as transliterated from Russian). Not to be outdone by anyone else, the Molokans have their own webpage. From what I have been able to learn about them so far, you could not find people less likely to follow anything remotely resembling pushtunwali than the Malakans, who appear to be the very embodiment of meekness and longsuffering.
Relating this to some current events here in America, I would note that Molokans apparently also were supposed to have had a tradition of plural marriage at some point and were either pejoratively identified or otherwise associated with Mormons in the 19th century. According to a 1993 New York Times article, the Molokans “comprise a rather late Russian sect that emerged at the close of the 18th century.”
The article continues:
Like other anti-clerical movements in Russia and in Europe, Molokan preachers focused on immediate personal contacts with God, refuting ritual and reverence for saints and icons as idolatry. They recognize as the sole fountainhead of truth the Holy Scriptures, emphasizing that both Old and New Testaments are to be viewed metaphorically not dogmatically.
Basic is meeting for prayer which reduce to hymn singing and the joint reading and interpretation of Scriptural texts. There is no hierarchy, with the congregations chaired by an Elder, usually one of the older and better educated members of the community. They resemble more the western Quakers and Baptists.
Apparently, along with other dissident sects, the Molokans were resettled in the Caucasus under Nicholas I. This is presumably how they entered into the history of Armenia.
Update: Somehow I forgot to mention this earlier. There is also a movie called Namus, which is based on Shirvanzade’s story. There is now a restored version available. From what I have heard about the story’s melodrama, it sounds as if it will be Armenia’s answer to a Bollywood plot. Unfortunately, it is a silent film, so there won’t be any big song-and-dance numbers.